Interview: Producer Knucklehead Talks August Alsina’s ‘Testimony,’ & Weighs In On ‘106 & Park’ Controversy

Features

Iyana Robertson / April 20, 2014

When Knucklehead first met August Alsina, he didn’t even know the boy could sing. Fast forward pass that revelation, and the two have achieved gold-selling status for Alsina’s hit single “I Luv This Shit.” By fostering a special musical chemistry that would lead to a sound all their own, the Texarkana native holds production credits on four tracks from Alsina’s debut album Testimony. Setting aside his vocals and penchant for a fusion of hard subject matter and smooth melodies, Knucklehead holds Alsina’s genuity at the foundation of their relationship – a trait that not everyone can handle. Looking to join the ranks of now-signature artist/producer duos like Drake and Noah ‘40’ Shebib, Alsina and Knucklehead are planning their own takeover. – Iyana Robertson

VIBE: What up, man?! You’re riding on quite a bit of success right now: gold single, four tracks on August Alsina’s Testimony. Has it sunk in yet?
Knucklehead: It sunk in yesterday, I’m not even gonna lie. I was going to pick my little girl up from school, and it just hit me all at once. I had tears of joy and I couldn’t even contain it. I was actually listening to [August’s] “Mama I Made It” when it hit me. It’s a hard song for me to listen to anyway, and it just all hit me at one time.

When it snapped for you, was it just like, “I’m here now”?
Yeah, I thought about everything I had to go through to get to this point.

So you’re on cloud 20 over there.
[Laughs] Whatever cloud is the highest, I feel like that’s where I’m at right now.

Let’s rewind a little bit back to what got you here. I hear Cam’Ron had something to do with you getting into music. Tell me about that.
I was a college student at the time when Dipset went crazy. You know how big the Dipset wave was. When I got to college, that was my theme music. I was already going through the thoughts of “what am I gonna do next,” I didn’t know if the school thing was for me. Then it just so happened that on this song by Cam’Ron called “It’s Nothin’” he’s saying, “All I heard when I was growing up was ‘school this, school that,’” and he was just like “fuck that, how am I gonna buy a Lamborghini making $40,000 a year?” And it really just kind of stood out every time I thought about school. I just thought about that particular line that Cam said and it really made sense.

So you said “fuck college” after that?
Yeah, it was music 100%. I looked at like if I’m going to do music, I’m just going to put my all into it. And if I fail at it, at least I tried.

Tell me the story behind your first major placement.
I did this song called “All In” for Travie McCoy, and it ended up being the New York Giants’ anthem. It was a Pepsi campaign that went on. The first time I’d ever heard it, it was opening night of football season. And when the game started, the Giants ran onto the field to that record. It was a surreal moment. But August’s record was my first big, big record.

And what about the story behind that?
Me and August met each other through Roscoe Dash. He used to just be coming up to the studio when me and Roscoe were working, and I didn’t know who August was at the time, but he was just a cool dude. We would chill, smoke, laugh and bullshit. This one particular time, he was there and Roscoe had take a call so he walked out the room. And while I was still playing beats, August started singing. When he started singing, it blew me away because he really sounded good. It was not studio-enhanced or anything; it was just raw talent. I stopped the music and was like “Why you never told me you sung after all these times you were coming up here?” And he was just like “I ain’t gonna step on no toes. Y’all working, I ain’t tryin’ to be all in the way.” Just from that moment when he said that, it made me say this dude is a special guy, ‘cause a lot of people in this industry are thirsty. I felt like he was a stand up dude right then. Our whole relationship built from that moment.

Before that, you were doing this sort of “trap” sound with Roscoe Dash, Soulja Boy and all those guys. Was R&B something you wanted to get into, or did August put you onto that?
Before me and Aug had even met, a lot of people used to tell me that my beats could go either way. They was like “your melodies could be for R&B, and it’s hard enough for hip-hop at the same time.” So I came from a trap background or whatever you want to call it, but I never wanted to be boxed in. Even when me and August met, it’s just crazy that we’re birthing our own sound together, on some R&B street shit that the world has never heard. It was just like a match made in music heaven.

So would you say you have the most creative chemistry with August than any other artist you’ve worked with?
Yes, I would most definitely say that. We could just be riding around the city and be thinking of beats or songs or anything. It’s easy for us to pretty much come together. Our musical chemistry is crazy. It’s not a hassle; it just flows. That our record is big right now, I be trippin’ like, I can’t believe this song is so huge. It started in my little old studio in my house. It just don’t feel like we tried to make these songs as huge as they are, and they just go.

Well that’s probably what you two have in common with the whole “R&B-hood” thing.
Exactly. It’s the perfect match. His music is perfect for females just because they’re gonna love the guy that can sing or whatever. But guys ride around to his music just as much as a female would. I done been in a gas station pumping gas, and a car full of dudes pull up bumping “Shoot Or Die.” It was crazy. But really that’s the vision we always had.

You said you knew “I Luv This Shit” was gonna blow. Was there anything different that happened while it was being made?
I just knew what his voice was gonna do over my beat. And that beat didn’t sound like nothing else at the time that was out. Even now, I don’t feel like anybody has did anything that sounds like that. When I made the beat, I called him immediately after I finished it like “Bro, I got a hit for you. You gotta hear this record ASAP.” And shit, it was him and The Exclusives, they heard that record and it was a wrap. It was the quickest studio session I’ve ever been in. They instantly got in a vibe, and everything was done in an hour, I could say.

And you were just sitting back watching?
[Laughs] Yeah, I was just sitting back. I knew the beat and shit was crazy, don’t get me wrong, but it was funny to let somebody else hear the beat and then see their reaction. It blew me away.

Let’s talk about your other three Testimony tracks. I know “Ghetto” is older, so tell me a little bit about “Right There” and “Testify.”
“Right There” is one of them records that I can relate to the most on the whole album. That whole “tears of joy” moment I had, that record defines that moment. I was there, I remember seeing everybody before me poppin off. And I knew my music is the shit, but I didn’t know what I’m doing wrong or whatever. Just to do the things that we’re doing right now, that’s why that record sets itself apart. That record is really gonna speak to people that are trying to get to where they gotta go. It’s like, we’re just like you, so don’t give up cause you can be right here where we at, ‘cause I was “Right There.”

And “Testify”? Did he tap you for the title track, or did it just become that?
It really just happened. When we get in the studio, that’s just how things happen. Me and my patna Keys, he co-produced on the record with me. And I told him “Let’s just do something epic. Let’s just go outside the box.” And that record was the record that happened. August got to the studio, heard that shit, and it was history. We weren’t even gonna record that night.

Working with August is so seamless and natural. Do you think you might be a little spoiled when you have to work someone who’s not going to be as seamless?
[Laughs] It’s so funny, cause it’s happened before. We make big songs together just doing what we do. But I done been in a session with somebody else – not saying the session didn’t go well – but I am spoiled. Even if I was trying to go out and find my own artists, he’s affected what I’m looking for. I always wanted to work with somebody that outworked me, and I can admit that he outworks me. And I’m pretty hard to outwork. When he’s in town, he probably gotta do a few radio shows, he probably gotta be at so many different places at a time. And he still gonna be in the studio until three, four in the morning to do everything all over again before his next flight. I just think that’s amazing. I see what hard work is. I see what somebody who’s dedicated to doing them, making good records or just being themselves.

So it’s that genuity.
Yeah, just like on BET, how he clearly told them that he didn’t wanna be asked that question. That’s just hard to find. Because a lot of people would beat around that question. I feel like they would be fake to the media, or try to be politically correct for that moment or something. And he just was like “I told y’all not to ask me that shit.” He’s really setting the bar for whoever else I’d want to build with.

Did what he said on 106 & Park shock you?
To be honest, I know how he is already. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s been telling everybody don’t ask him that question. You gotta think, that moment, that was his album, that was him up there promoting. He ain’t want no negativity that day. I wasn’t shocked at all. It was funny to me, to be honest. That was the funniest moment I’ve seen on TV all year. [laughs] They provoked him and I guarantee they got the memo.

Okay, so August has you spoiled, but I’m sure you still have your wishlist of people you’d like to work with. Who’s on it?
I’m gonna have to say Jeezy, Cam’Ron, Kanye, Jigga of course, and Pharrell; I’d think it’d be dope to work with Pharrell. I done met him twice. He’s so cool. And even at the time, none of this was going on when I met him, but he was just so cool and down-to-earth. I know if we ever got around each other again, we probably could work together. And Lil’ Wayne for the sake of the culture. And I’ll even say Beyonce and Drake too.

Any songs out right now that you wish you would’ve made?
Maybe “Drunk In Love” [laughs]. Just the effect that it has on all the ladies, it’s just one of those songs that every time I hear I be like “Damn, I wish I would’ve made that.”

And what else is in the works for you?
Right now, me and August are just knocking out a lot of features. We’re just pretty much trying to be everywhere right now. Since the album is out too, we’re freelancing [laughs]. Whoever wants one of these records, let’s get it.

So you two are trying to have that Em & Dre, YG & DJ Mustard type of artist-producer duo thing.
Yeah, like the Drake & 40 thing. Right now, I know everybody want our juice anyway. I’d rather keep winning with him, and vice versa on his end. We’re just trying to keep winning together. We got a sound that I know everybody wants.